McPherson College and its auto restoration program secure $1.5B endowment funding
McPherson College in McPherson, Kansas—a town of 14,000 about an hour north of Wichita—now boasts an endowment of $1,592,000,000, the largest of any small liberal-arts college in the United States.
We mention this because the college, with a student enrollment of a little over 800, is home to the nation’s only four-year degree in automotive restoration. The 150-student program has graduated hundreds of technicians who now work at some of the most prestigious restoration shops in the world.
The contribution to the endowment of McPherson College (pronounced mick-fur-son) was based on a 2-to-1 match; an anonymous benefactor promised that they would donate $500 million if the school could raise half that by June of 2023. McPherson raised $250 million, and then some, by that date, and the same donor surprised the college by committing an additional $500 million estate gift. That $1B, combined with the $342M raised by the college and the existing $250M endowment, brings McPherson’s funding to $1,592,000,000.
Part of the endowment match was $50 million given by Richard and Melanie Lundquist, who also donated a vintage Ferrari (below) to the restoration program. “McPherson College has been a special place for Richard and me for over a decade,” said Dr. Melanie Lundquist. “It has also been one of our greatest pleasures to support McPherson’s one-of-a-kind automotive restoration program. We are both thrilled that this unique program—and McPherson College—will be on solid footing for perpetuity.”
McPherson College president Michael Schneider announced the endowment at an on-campus event Friday morning. “Today is historic, not just for McPherson College, but for all small liberal arts colleges in America,” said Schneider. “I am incredibly grateful to our anonymous donor for giving us an unprecedented opportunity—and responsibility—to build and implement our strategic vision of becoming a destination learning community.” Hagerty has been a partner in promoting the school’s curriculum since 1998.
Originally the restoration program was only a two-year degree. At first, it wasn’t doing well. “Just as the program was on the verge of being eliminated, a hero came to the rescue: Jay Leno, comedian and noted car enthusiast,” said a story on McPherson that appeared on Hagerty.com in 2022. “‘Jay learned about the program through his friend, Randy Ema, a restoration expert and one of the world’s experts on the Duesenberg marque,’ said Amanda Gutierrez, executive vice-president of the school. ‘When Jay called the school, no one believed it was him!’ They confirmed that it was Leno calling, and he went on to become a generous supporter of the program.”
In 2006, a bachelor’s degree in automotive restoration was added to the McPherson catalog. “That shift afforded our students a broader range of opportunities,” Gutierrez said last year. “Our degree helps graduates develop skills not just for a first job, but for an evolving career over a lifetime.”
Next month, McPherson College’s automotive restoration program will be making its first-ever appearance on the industry’s biggest stage—the 2023 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The students’ fully restored 1953 Mercedes-Benz 300 S Cabriolet will compete at this year’s event, a milestone for the program.
Brian Martin is a graduate of McPherson’s program who returned to be the director of auto restoration projects. “This forthcoming endowment gift will allow us to plan for the future in a way we never dreamed would be possible before,” he said, “and to look at how we can build the school and build the restoration program. We’ll be able to provide students with a better experience, a better education. There’s a lot of excitement here.
“Back when I went through the program there was nothing like this,” Martin said. “The only other options available were traditional tech programs. Which are great, but that’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to be able to work in automotive museums and on private collections, and that would not have been possible without the focus on historic and collector vehicles we have here. And that gap has only widened—that difference between repairing and restoring collector cars versus modern vehicle auto repair.”
For Martin, it wasn’t just the restoration curriculum that prepared him for the future. “Probably the biggest thing for me aside from the hands-on restoration experience was everything that went along with the rest of the college—making sure I’m able to communicate with customers and employees effectively, being able to write and speak, and understanding how the science and art goes along with it. The rest of the campus enhances the restoration program as much as the technical work.”